Great Britain Historical Geographical Information System (GBHGIS)

Edinburgh Conference: Working Digitally with Historical Maps

This one day conference discussed the many new ways in which old maps can be used once they have been digitised, especially if they are findable, down-loadable and even used as part of a mashup.

Date: Thursday 13th December 2012
Time: 10.00am - 5pm
Venue: The Board Room, George IV Bridge building, National Library of Scotland, 57 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EW, Scotland.
Venue Website:
Location Map:
Closest National Rail station: Waverley Station

Supported by JISC and hosted by The National Library of Scotland.

Download PDFs from the day here:

Edinburgh Conference: Programme [Acrobat (.pdf) - 121kb Fri, 21 Dec 2012 09:47:00 GMT]

Edinburgh Conference: Abstracts [Acrobat (.pdf) - 401kb Fri, 21 Dec 2012 10:03:00 GMT]

Key note Presentation

Petr Pridal (Klokan Technologies GmbH) - Old Maps Online

This presentation will give an overview of the Old Maps Online project which provides a single gateway to digital maps held in libraries around the world. This clustering of e-content creates an innovative method of accessing online map images from many different institutions. The easy-to-use interface allows users to search for historical maps by location on a single website. Typing in a place-name, or panning and zooming the modern map view, lets users find their location, and maps covering it. As the user changes location the list of maps automatically updates to include the most relevant maps for the new area, and sliders let users narrow the choice of maps by date. Clicking on a map thumbnail takes users to a full image of the map at the relevant library.

The presentation will demonstrate the latest version of the MapRank Search software, including crawl-ability by Google search bots and enhanced performance enabling many more map collections to be included.

Presentations from session 1: Mapping history with technology

Chris Fleet (National Library of Scotland) - New digital map developments at the National Library of Scotland

This talk will review recent developments in online access to maps at the National Library of Scotland. These developments include the expansion in maps available, with now 48,000 online maps, and the complete availability of the OS County Series maps for Scotland from the 1840s to the 1950s. They also include technological developments focusing on open-source technologies such as OpenLayers and GeoServer. OpenLayers is used as the main viewer for georeferenced and ungeoreferenced maps, and GeoServer is used as the basis for the Sheet Viewer ( During 2012 the Sheet Viewer expanded to provide access to all the NLS online maps through bounding boxes.

Georeferencing, particularly by cropping and mosaicking series maps has been another focus of development, including the Ordnance Survey One-Inch Seventh Series (1955-61) and 1:25,000 Provisional editions (1937-61) of Great Britain, the OS Planning Maps Series of Great Britain (1944-1955), Bartholomew half-inch to the mile maps of Great Britain (1897-1912) and the OS Six-Inch maps of Scotland (1892-1905). These georeferenced maps have supported a number of collaborative applications using web services. A final major development has been designing and implementing the new NLS maps website, and the principles and rationale for the new design and architecture.

Alice Heywood (National Library of Scotland) - Thinking Global, Mapping local - using historical maps in mobile apps

Last year the National Library of Scotland's learning team worked with schools and community volunteers in Moray to create the Great Escapes Moray app - an 'insider's guide to the local area' as a 21st century digital version of a Victorian travel guide. The app features layers of historical maps from different time periods, revealing how the area has changed and expanded over time. In addition to the map layers, there are 20 multimedia interpretations of points of interest created by the locals to show visitors some of the undiscovered gems in their area. To date the app has been downloaded from as far afield as Russia and China and has showcased not only a new way of bringing historical NLS maps to a global audience but also how they can be used to inspire local communities to discover their cultural heritage. This presentation will look at some of the challenges and benefits encountered in bringing historical maps to a new platform and audience.

Chris Speed (Edinburgh College of Art) - Walking Through Time

Smart phones are becoming a standard across creative and consumer communities and their locative properties are beginning to change the way that we navigate physical and social spaces. For many people the satellite image provided by a smart phones mapping application depicts a ‘live’ marker denoting where the user is, set against a relatively recent satellite photograph of the surroundings. Together they give the impression of a ‘real-time’ image of time and space even though the satellite image maybe two years old suggesting that despite their cutting edge technology, no smart phone lets us see where we are in the present.

This talk reflects on a smart phone based application that allows people to not to be located in the ‘now’, but instead in the past. Upon launching the phone application, users are able to find themselves in ‘present’ space, but by selecting from a series of historical maps they suddenly find themselves in a map of the same area but 150 years earlier (for example). The software then allows users to follow streets and walk through walls that have since been transformed through urban re-development.

The talk will explore the sense of identification that users have expressed as they identify themselves as the ‘blue dot’ on the screen that is able to ‘walk’ on a historical map as though it was laid beneath their feet across ‘present’ space and the realisations that occur as they correlate representations of historical space (maps) with a cities spaces of historical representation (architectures of the past).

Peter Munro (Borders Family History Society) - Maps and Family History

Borders Family History Society has been researching local and social history for over 25 years, transcribing records not easily accessible and publishing them for people researching their Borders ancestry. Although this has comprised mainly gravestone inscriptions, school records, and intimations of foreign births, marriages, and deaths; in the last few years we've moved on to records of poor relief, police and criminal records.

I'm going to present 2 sets of data, one that comprises applicants for and recipients of relief under the Poor Law legislation from 1852 to 1930 which is complex but illustrates clearly that while some recipients lived in the parish that paid for their relief, others lived in other locations in Scotland, England, or other countries.

The other set of data is the addresses of our current membership. While this is a trivial use because we don’t need the power of Map Builder, it is highly enlightening and shows areas of the world where surprisingly there are no members even though historically there were Scottish migrants from the Borders and there’s evidence of their migration in the Poor Law records as well as in birth, marriage and death records.

Presentations from session 2: Visualizing places, spaces and in-between

Richard Rodger (University of Edinburgh) - When History meets Geography: New Mapping Tools

This short presentation explores some of the tools developed by a project called 'Visualising Urban Geographies' funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. See  The tools can be used to present a user's maps in minutes, and in conjunction with the NLS geo-referenced maps online, provide powerful insights into the historical past, and indeed, into contemporary spatial relations. There will be a practical demonstration of the tools, and some illustrations on their utility for local historians, community groups, students and indeed anyone interested in making spatial sense of data. 

Bruce Gittings & Michal Michalski (University of Edinburgh) - The Story of Perth: Linking Archaeology, History and Maps

 This presentation examines the integration of archaeological data, historical data and geographical information from a range of sources, along with a timeline and maps (from the National Library of Scotland and Royal Scottish Geographical Society) to create a web-based historical GIS for the City of Perth.  The resulting system has received critical reviews from Perth and Kinross Council and other local history, geographical and environmental organisations as an example of what is possible with the range of data sources now available.

David Simpson - Old Data on Modern Maps

Roysroads is a website devoted to ancient Scottish roads. The entire road network of the 1747 Military Survey of the Highlands has been copied over onto a modern expandable OS map, to create a highlight within an over-layer. This old road network is an important legacy from an ancient Scotland as it was before wheeled transport; most of the old routes remain on our landscape in the form of minor roads and mountain pathways. All the data comes from the NLS digitised version of the Military Survey. The website was constructed with the technical and material support of the Ordnance Survey Openspace Programme. This service is free and permits an amateur website maker to upload a fully expandable map from the OS Service. Some knowledge of HTML and Javascript is needed to create the over-layer but an extensive programme of guidance is included and this is complemented by a very active forum of enthusiasts. Scotland’s bridges are next on my agenda.

Neil Ramsay (ScotWays) - Historic Paths on Historic Maps

The Heritage Paths Project has spent the last five years identifying historic tracks, researching their physical accessibility and their historic context and promoting the paths for people to use and learn about. In doing this we hope to encourage more people to access the outdoors and to give those people getting outdoors a richer experience.

The principal method we use to encourage more people to get outdoors is by publishing our database of historic paths on a website,, where visitors will find route descriptions as well as interpretation on the route’s heritage. We have also installed interpretive signs on routes, published a map of long distance historic paths and we are completing the writing of a book on the subject.

We promote paths that date from the Roman period to the mid-20th century and historic maps are an invaluable research tool for gaining insights into the history of paths and roads. We have also used historic maps to overlay the routes we promote on our website, which provides an important layer of interpretation to people accessing the database.

Andrew Janes (The National Archives) & Humphrey Southall (University of Portsmouth) - Bomb Sight

(on behalf of Dr Catherine Emma Jones, Dr Patrick Weber and Andrew Janes)

The Bomb Sight project is mapping the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941. Previously available only by viewing the original maps in the Reading Room at The National Archives, Bomb Sight is making the historical maps and newly created data available to citizen researchers, academics and students. We have clustered together data sources from the period using location information as the unique identifier. You will be able to explore where the bombs fell, discover photographs from the period, people’s memories of life in London during that time and locations of anti-invasion sites.

The project has scanned original 1940s bomb census maps that record the location of bombs that were dropped by the Luftwaffe during WW2. The historical maps have been scanned, matched to a present day location which facilitated the capture of the geographical locations of all the falling bombs recorded on the original map. The project has produced two 2 key outputs (1) a responsive mode web mapping application utilising elements of HTML 5 as well as spatially enabled Open Source Software (Geoserver, PostGIS, GeoDjango and Leaflet), thus making the website usable on a desktop, tablet and mobile, it is available at (2) a native android application with Augmented reality view takes advantage of the phone’s camera and GPS. With which a user can point their phone in a London street and investigate the location of the falling bombs projected into a view of the street.  Both outputs providing innovative methods for exploring historical datasets for non-commercial use and ensuring valuable archive resources are more widely accessible.

The project has been funded by JISC as part of their content Programme 2011-13 and is led by Dr Catherine Jones, University of Portsmouth in Partnership with The National Archives.

Presentations from session 3: Utilising Gazetteers and place-names

Ashley Beamer (RCAHMS) - Connecting people to ScotlandsPlaces

ScotlandsPlaces ( is a partnership website between RCAHMS, the National Library of Scotland, and the National Records of Scotland. The website launched in late 2009 and brings together place-based datasets from each of the partner organisations via web services. Since the launch the partners have funded further developments to include new functionality as well as further resources. In August of this year the subscriptions system was launched and with it came over 25,000 new OS maps, three new 17th-19th century historical tax rolls, and seven counties from the Scottish Ordnance Survey name books. A new system was built to accommodate the name books which allow users to access the indexed place name listings, the relevant name book pages, and the associated 1st edition OS map sheets for any given place name. The remaining name book counties will be available in the website between now and summer 2013 in time to celebrate the Year of Natural Scotland.

The tax rolls and name book volumes are provided in the site as images of handwritten pages from, currently, over 500 volumes. As these resources are only available in image form a transcriptions system is currently being build which will not only invite users to engage with the website but also make the information in the volumes more accessible to the public. Holding the information in text form will allow the data to be visible to both website queries and screen readers. The transcriptions system is due to launch in April 2013.

Jake King (Ainmean Aite na h-Alba) - Using Historical Maps as a Tool for Place-name Research

An important methodological approach in place-name studies is to gather the written forms of names as they appear in historical sources, which includes maps. Recent developments in digitisation and Geo-referencing have made this process far easier and speedier. I will give a short demonstration of how digital maps are used to conduct this research. A second, related, approach I will also demonstrate involves using a modern map as a portal into other Geo-referenced digital resources, including historical maps.

Kirsty Stewart (University of Edinburgh Library) & Neil Mayo (EDINA) - The Carmichael Watson Project: Putting Folklore In Its Place

e Carmichael Watson Project has made available the manuscript notebooks of Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), controversial Gaelic folklorist and compiler of Carmina Gadelica through a fully-indexed online catalogue, linked to transcriptions, digital images and short biographies of individuals mentioned. The current phase, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, has been concentrating on the many and diverse objects which he collected now housed at The West Highland Museum in Fort William and the National Museums of Scotland. In many cases, both the physical and oral material which Alexander Carmichael collected links to places such as archaeological or religious sites or entails place-name lore. Additionally, the presence and movement of lore in and between particular places is important in folklore studies. Given the ready availability of latitude and longitude values for specific locations, it was possible to enrich the resource with several features - pinpointing locations on historical maps provided by NLS; linking to Geograph and Flickr to provide access to photographs of the local area; and linking to Geonames to display location and nearby places on a Google satellite map. These features give greater context to the items in the collection whether songs, stories, charms, brooches or carved stones. The presentation will explain how this was done, how it adds to the visual and geographical context and the benefit of geo-referencing to the user.

Paul Ell (Queen's University, Belfast) - The Digital Exposure of English Place-names (DEEP) project

The value of gazetteers to link electronic content by place-name has long been recognised. Numerous gazetteers and associated web services exist including the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names, the Alexandria Digital Library Gazetteer, GeoNames and more. However most electronic gazetteers lack spatial resolution and chronological depth – put simply they tend to exclude smaller places, and do not have comprehensive coverage of historical place-name variants.

The Digital Exposure of English Place-Names (DEEP) project, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), aims to address this challenge. It takes the 80 years of accumulated knowledge of the Survey of English Place Names, produced by the English Place-Name Society (EPNS), into the digital realm. In total more than 4 million place-name forms are being digitised from cities and towns to streets and fields. The gazetteer will contain multiple variants of modern place-names as attested in thousands of historical sources. Its scope is vast when it is considered that the Getty Thesaurus covering the whole world includes just 1.1 million names. This short presentation discusses the development of DEEP, describes the content it contains, and the opportunities to interlink e-resources it affords.